Festival preview: The Improbable City

This article is from 2015

Festival preview: The Improbable City

We talk to Edinburgh Art Festival director Sorcha Carey about experimentation and alternate worlds

Along with Edinburgh Art Festival’s usual jam-packed programme of gallery-based events and exhibitions, seven international artists have been commissioned to create work in a series of unlikely and forgotten locations across the city. Director Sorcha Carey brings these artists together under the umbrella of The Improbable City, a title taken from Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino’s 1972 collection of 55 fictional prose poems.

In Calvino’s book, the 17th century explorer Marco Polo describes a series of 55 fantastical cities to the ageing emperor Kubla Khan. Many of today’s readers now consider the text as an alternative, creative language for re-interpreting urban space. For Carey, the topic is made for the city of Edinburgh, filled with literary history and what she calls ‘fairytale topography’, before adding: ‘a festival offers a natural home for the improbable; a moment when we are instinctively more open to discovery and experimentation.’

All of the seven selected artists vividly conjure alternate worlds which are based on a range of real experiences. In this new context, each artist aims to create a resonance with the spaces they inhabit, whilst also igniting them with imaginative possibilities, inviting us to consider them anew.

Charles Avery is no stranger to the improbable, so it seems fitting that his ambitious intervention should be in the city’s heart, nestled within Waverley Station. On site, Avery will position a bronze tree over five metres tall and embellished with surreal hanging fruit. The tree is taken from the municipal park in his ongoing drawing project ‘The Islanders’, set within his fictional island city, ‘Onomatopoeia’. It sits close by to his accompanying solo exhibition at Ingleby Gallery, who describe the Waverley sculpture as ‘part plant, part sculpture, part temple … offering a meeting point or a place for momentary escape and contemplation.’

Not far away, former Turner Prize nominee Marvin Gaye Chetwynd will construct a performative installation in the debating chamber within the derelict Old Royal High School on Calton Hill. Chetwynd is well-known for retelling elements of cultural history through elaborate, theatrical performances, so it’s easy to see why she would be drawn to the crumbling, neoclassical building that has been sitting empty for decades.

Her project takes its title, ‘The King Must Die’, from Mary Renault’s elaborate and highly acclaimed 1958 novel set in ancient Greece, perhaps a nod towards Edinburgh’s accolade as the Athens of the North. She will also make reference to the internationally recognised, contemporary Czech artist and stage designer Josef Svoboda, who described himself as a ‘scenographer’, creating magical and otherworldly stage sets using a variety of multi-media techniques.

Alongside Avery and Chetwynd’s works will be a series of projects throughout Edinburgh from Ariel Guzik, Emma Finn, Hanna Tuulikki, Julie Favreau and Kemang Wa Lehulere. For Carey, this year’s programme is more ambitious than ever, and continues to provide an important platform for both local and international grassroots and established talent. ‘We are delighted to continue to expand the ambitions of our commissioning programme,’ she explains. ‘There are seven new projects by leading and emerging artists, including some of the very best practitioners from Scotland and several international artists showing in the UK for the very first time.’

The Improbable City, various venues, 0131 226 6558, 30 Jul–30 Aug.

Edinburgh Art Festival

Scotland's largest annual celebration of visual art offers work by the best contemporary Scottish artists as well as exhibitions of the most important international artists and movements of the 20th century and other historical periods. This year, ten artists from previous Edinburgh Art Festival editions will present…